Album of fifty-nine studies of flowers, gardens and rural views

Item author: Gertrude Jekyll
Item date: 1885-1886
Grant Value: £5,000
Item cost: $85,000
Item date acquired: 2015
Item institution: Garden Museum
London borough: LB Lambeth

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was one Britain’s most influential garden designers. This unique album of platinum prints dates from between 1885 and 1886.  Jekyll took up photography, probably under the tutelage of her brother, Sir Herbert, in 1885, developing a special interest in recording English vernacular architecture and rural traditions.

Jekyll was important as one of the few garden writers and designers who took and used her own photographs alongside her text in order to emphasize her aesthetic style and represent visually the ideas suggested and discussed in her writing. Her images were published in her hugely influential books, works such as Wood and Garden (1899) about her experiences as an amateur gardener at Munstead Wood, and Old West Surrey (1904), which records the architecture, crafts and traditions of her home county. Whilst the images in these publications remain well known and survive as a unique record of her work as a garden designer, they are generally viewed merely as supplementary sources to support her writings.

However, the superiority of the platinum prints in this album illustrate her skill as a photographer and her superior grasp of the technical craft of exposing and developing  fine art photography prints. They mark a moment of self-realization as a photographer, standing out for their creative quality and reaching beyond record photography. Whilst Jekyll left behind more than 2,000 prints in six photo-notebooks (now at Berkeley, University of California), this album is exceptionally important, as it is a selection of those photographs which she considered her best work.

Jekyll used photography to explore, interpret, record and scrutinize the landscape around her. Tree studies were a favourite and the subject of some of her most artistic photography. They demonstrate her close study of form, composition and perspective. She developed a habit of close observation through her study of cottage gardens, local houses and their inhabitants and took direct inspiration from them whilst developing her garden designs. She had a great love of the rural way of life in Surrey and documented local farms and agricultural landscapes.

The prints, bound together in a single album, document the tastes of Britain’s best known garden maker in the early years of her career and illustrate the interest that would later inspire her to popularize a more naturalistic and painterly style of garden design.

The acquisition of this album was made possible by generous funding from the Heritage Memorial Art Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.

The Dairy Yard at Unstead Farm, near Godalming, 1885. Image courtesy of the Garden Museum.
The Dairy Yard at Unstead Farm, near Godalming, 1885.Field with Haystacks and Wattle Fencing Separating Road from Woodland, 1885
Field with Haystacks and Wattle Fencing Separating Road from Woodland, 1885. Field with Haystacks and Wattle Fencing Separating Road from Woodland, 1885. Image courtesy of the Garden Museum.
Field with Haystacks and Wattle Fencing Separating Road from Woodland, 1885. Image courtesy of the Garden Museum.
Two Straw Bee Skeps in a Cottage Garden, 1885. Image courtesy of the Garden Museum.
Two Straw Bee Skeps in a Cottage Garden, 1885. Image courtesy of the Garden Museum.